Feature: The Climbers' Club
Ynys Ettws hut, idyllically situated beneath Dinas Mot in the Llanberis Pass. (Photo: Steve Andrews)
The Climbers' Club is inextricably linked with the history of Welsh climbing culture, and the influence of the club and its many active members is still evident today. It was founded in 1898, producing its first journal in August of that year. It currently has over 1200 members and it owns and maintains a number of climbing huts in the Peak District, Scotland, Cornwall and Wales.
The Climbers’ Club is the biggest publisher of climbing guidebooks in the UK with an extensive series of titles covering North Wales, Pembroke, Cornwall, Devon, Lundy and other southern areas of England.
The current roster of ‘in print’ guides for North Wales is particularly impressive: Gogarth, Lliwedd, Ogwen and Carneddau, Tremadog - with Meirionnydd and Lleyn being added in the last 12 months. (Go 'here' and 'here' to read reviews of both of these exciting new titles.) This frenetic work rate looks set to continue unabated; a further 3 new guides replacing out of print titles are due for publication over the forthcoming autumn/winter period. Firstly, the relatively quiet Cwm Silyn and Cwellyn, authored by Bob Wightman and Caernarfon based fireman, Paul Jenkinson is expected in November. Secondly, a new Llanberis guide under the auspices of co-ordinating author Iwan Arfon Jones is due in January 2004. Thirdly, Nick Dixon’s homage to the mighty black cliff: Clogwyn Du’r Arddu – the magnificent and atmospheric crag on the Western slopes of Snowdon is slated for February 2004.
All authors and contributors to Climbers' Club guides do so on an entirely voluntary basis. These saint-like volunteers give up many hours of free time to check and revamp the existing base of information from previous publications. Without the toil of this grassroots taskforce of local climbers it is arguable that the historical record of Welsh climbing would have been lost in the mists of time.
The Climbers' Club coverage of North Wales is admittedly, not quite definitive. There are a small number of independant guides. Welsh Winter Climbs (authored by Malcolm Campbell and Andy Newton) is still in print and Iwan Arfon Jones has produced the most current Slate guide. There is also the North Wales Limestone guide from Rockfax and the popular Rock Climbing in Snowdonia authored by the late Paul Williams.
Another interesting development is the forthcoming North Wales Bouldering/Bowldro Gogledd Cymru guide authored by Llanberis based Simon Panton. Significantly this will be the first bilingual (English/Welsh) guide to be produced.
Clearly the consistent supply of guidebooks to the key North Wales crags has been a great benefit to the climbing community, and in turn the local communities throughout Snowdonia that have benefited from the income that climbing culture has brought to the area.
Aside from documenting the history and location of all known climbing routes the climbing guides also play a crucial role in educating visitors with regard to access and conservation issues.
The Climbers’ Club also runs the Colin Kirkus Guidebook Fund. Colin Kirkus was one of the top British climbers active during the 1930s. He climbed numerous cutting edge routes in North Wales and wrote both the Glyder Fach guidebook and ‘Let’s Go Climbing’ – one of the earliest climbing instructional books.
The fund acts as a conduit for a proportion of guidebook profits to be directed towards causes that benefit the climbing community as a whole. For example, contributions have been made to the British Mountaineering Council access fund, the National Trust Snowdon purchase and to the voluntary Mountain Rescue associations.
The Climbers' Club has been producing guides for nearly a century. In 1909 the first publication, The Climbs on Lliwedd was released. This was followed by an ongoing series of guides to climbing in the North Wales area. In the late ‘40s the range of the coverage broadened to cover parts of Peak District and Cornwall. Nowadays the focus has settled predominantly upon Wales and Southern England.
There are three Climbers’ Club huts located in Snowdonia. Ynys Ettws and the Cwm Glas Bach hut are idyllically situated in the Llanberis Pass, whilst Helyg in the Ogwen Valley sits beneath the formidable ramparts of Gallt yr Ogof, with superb views of Tryfan. Established in 1925, Helyg was the first climbing hut in the UK and as such is steeped in climbing folklore and legend. Along with the Pen y Gwryd hotel, it played a crucial role in the early developments of rock climbing in North Wales. (NB. Helyg, the history of the Climbers’ club cottage in North Wales and its climbers - authored by Geoff Milburn - is currently out of print. Second hand copies may be found on the internet or in book shops with a specialisation in mountaineering.)
John Menlove Edwards, the great climbing pioneer of the late 1920s and ‘30s famously lazed away summer afternoons here, philosophizing on the finer points of the art of climbing and concocting desperate eliminate problems on the boulder in the grounds. (Visit www.ernest-press.co.uk to view Jim Perrin’s Boardman Tasker award winning book: Menlove – The life and times of John Menlove Edwards) Later it was used as a training base for the 1953 Everest expedition, and it remains a popular base for club members operating in the Ogwen Valley.
For booking details for the Climbers' Club huts, go to www.climbers-club.co.uk
Bookings are normally accepted from members of any recognised climbing club, or BMC affiliated organisation. Bookings from schools and organisations involving young people will not be accepted because of legal restrictions.
Enquiries are welcome from any other organised group familiar with huts.